On with one of my oldest clients this morning and came up with a spot-on analogy about a lot of organizational management today:

Your company is a ship on the open sea and your mission is to navigate and guide it into port.

Your captain (management) wants you to take it in slow and steady, so they hit their schedule perfectly. They don’t want to expend any more fuel, any more people, or take a chance by accelerating the ship to get to the port faster. It’s the way they’ve done things for years and they are not changing.

Unfortunately, you’re guiding the ship and you’re seeing all of the competing ships (and some speedboats) passing you by in the night because they are going faster and using innovative techniques and strategies to beat you.

But the captain doesn’t see this, because they’re sleeping. But you do — and you tell them everyday that the ship needs to go faster and to develop innovative techniques and strategies like your competition.

The captain disagrees. “Slow and steady will get us into port on-time and on-schedule” (and the captain will be rewarded by management with a healthy bonus if this happens).

But you know the competing ships (and speedboats) will hit port way before you do, unload their cargo, sell their wares quickly, and be off before you realize it.

In addition, when they pass, they are making bigger waves that affect your ship’s progress. But the captain maintains a slow and steady approach.

They are NOT LISTENING.

And you’re seeing the future of your industry happen RIGHT BEFORE YOUR EYES.

And you’re not part of it. You’re a spectator. And the competition is EATING YOUR LUNCH.

Sometimes, the captain doesn’t notice until it’s too late — and then — and only then — they want you to accelerate. But it’s too little, too late. And when you tell them, they get mad.

WHAT DO YOU DO? My ADVICE:

Don’t open up the throttle — but you should subtly ‘click’ it forward just enough where management doesn’t notice (at first), but where you begin to catch up, pace, and sometimes pass the competition. Add a resource, accelerate the deadline, increase the scope a bit, start a small skunkworks in the basement — but do something.

Also — EVANGELIZE your perspective and strategy all the time. You might be ridiculed at first — but after the competition beats you — you can stand there with a huge ‘I told you so’ face. They might listen to you next time.

You might get into trouble if management ultimately uncovers what you’re doing — but no one was ever fired for doing the right thing and taking a small chance to advance the company forward.

And if you are reprimanded or fired, it makes a great story to tell when interviewing with the competition!

P.S. This happens ALL THE TIME. Think of Kodak, Blockbuster, and Nokia to name a few. What others can you think of?